THE ART OF ATTRACTING INVESTMENT

Ecuador 2019 | CULTURE & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Ecuador's new investment law offers great incentives to private investors, but it's the efforts and creativity of its Ministry of Tourism that is reeling in investors.

Enrique Ponce de León Román
BIOGRAPHY
Enrique Ponce de León Román was appointed Minister of Tourism in 2017. He is a lawyer by training and holds a doctorate from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, after which he obtained a specialization in tax law from the University of Salamanca, Spain. Before his ministerial appointment, he was a partner at Enrique Ponce and Carbo & Asociados from 1990-2017. In parallel, from 2005-2017, he was General Director of Hoteles Decayeron.

How will the new investment law amplify investments in your industry?

The new law is a powerful set of incentives for all the sectors involved. It also provides interesting tools for the tourism industry to promote Ecuador around the world. With generous income tax exemptions for up to 20 years, hotels are now able to import goods without duties, and the repatriation of profits will no longer be subjected to the currency transaction tax. Already, we have noticed increased investor appetite in our tourism sector. Furthermore, our dollarized economy makes investments more stable. We complement this with adjustments and better enforcement of the legal framework. In the past 16 months of our administration, USD370 million in new investments were generated for the tourism sector.

How do you envision capitalizing on Ecuador's biodiversity to drive tourism?

Ecuador is a natural paradise, perhaps the most biodiverse place in the world. During meetings with investors, I mention that in Ecuador, one can have breakfast in the jungle, lunch in the snow, and dinner along the coast—and even offer to drive them myself. We are marketing Ecuador to the world as a tourist circuit with historic cities, cultural heritage sites, and wonderful nature. Quito and Cuenca are already recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while Guayaquil is a growing center of business tourism. Now, we seek to extend this circuit to the rural areas. A tourist would be able to discover natural attractions and beautiful towns, which are colorful and full of history and traditions. At the same time, we need to protect our cultural heritage and preserve it for future generations. Ecuador has state-of-the-art airports, road, infrastructure, and hospitality, which will support all the other efforts.

How do you envision preserving and renovating the UNESCO list of sites while at the same time attracting more tourists?

There are many different interests among tourists. Some will come here because of the country's culture, while others will come for gastronomy, adventure tourism, or birdwatching. We are fortunate to have UNESCO world heritage sites and are currently working on two programs to turn all these attractions into real tourist products. One is the Pueblos Mágico (magical towns) program that originated in Mexico; mayors of certain towns are currently working on the specific requirements for culture, folklore, traditions, and gastronomy, and the Ministry of Tourism will analyze the effort and declare them as “Pueblos Mágico." The second program we are working on in the Pacific Riviera has to do with selecting certain areas of the coast and promoting them for resort development investments.

What are your ambitions as minister in terms of investors and tourists?

Our long-term ambition is having the equivalent of one tourist per citizen, while never compromising on the quality of services. We do want more tourists coming into Ecuador, though we want quality tourists who help the country in terms of the economy and environment. We have three strategies in place to attract more tourists. First is receptive tourism through promotions and diversifying our offerings relevant to each market. We use online travel agencies and big data in order to track travelers. Next, we have a film commission in charge of promoting Ecuador as a place for documentaries, music videos, and film productions. We are doing well and have grown 14% in receptive tourism in less than a year. Second, we are working on revitalizing local tourism, which has witnessed 35% growth compare to the last survey. We are also setting up arrangements with airlines, inland carriers, the hotel sector, and travel agencies to offer attractive packages. The third aspect is related to investment; as part of the new investment law, we created the Tourist Promotion and Management Fund, which enables us to have the appropriate budget for both promotion and projects development. In addition, Ecuador has been declared an open sky country, which means international airlines can land in our country with all the needed facilities. We are currently working on an agreement with the US, and after signing it our numbers will increase.